Bugsnax is a quaint little puzzle game from indie developer Young Horses, who previously brought us Octodad.
Now, I use the word quaint to describe this game, because… well, it is. But it is also so much more than that. I mean, if I were trying to come up with some other words I would probably throw in “adorable”, “Muppet”, and “body horror.”
In Bugsnax, you play as a reporter who has been tasked with seeking out Elizabert Megafig, a disgraced explorer who claims to have discovered a new form of creature known as a “Bugsnax.” These beings are half bug, half snack, and have many strange properties.
So, In order to save their career, the reporter heads to Snaktooth Island to investigate.
While that sounds like a semi-reasonable plot for a game, Bugsnax goes above and beyond in a lot of ways.
A Cavalcade of Characters
One of the best aspects of Bugsnax is it’s diverse cast of characters.
There is Filbo Fiddlepie; the self proclaimed (and self deprecating) mayor of Snaxburg; Snorpy Fizzlebean, a conspiracy theorist who believes that a secret organization is out to get him; Chandlo Funkbun, the chillest of dudes and lifter of heavy things; and many more.
Now, if you didn’t notice already, I’d like to point out that every one of those names is delightfully ridiculous. That’s because the characters in Bugsnax are not human. They are Grumpuses.
For all intents and purposes, Grumpuses are basically Muppets. They are adorable and look like they are made of felt. However, this does not diminish them as characters in any way.
Each grumpus has their own issues and problems that they need to deal with, and each wants something that they think they will find on Snaktooth Island, whether it’s answers to life’s greatest mysteries, fulfillment, or inspiration.
Over the course of the game, you help the islanders not just to find snax, but also to handle their own individual shortcomings.
Another laudable aspect of the game’s cast is its inclusivity. There are same sex couples as well as one character refered exclusivly with “they” pronouns. While it isn’t the first game to do this (see Ikenfell), it is heartening to see more games with this kind of character diversity.
Like Cronenburg… But With Food
A question you might be asking yourself at this point is: “What are Bugsnax, anyway?”
Well, Bugsnax are exactly what they sound like. They are bugs that are snacks… or snacks that are bugs.
Either way, it’s weird.
An early example of a bugsnak (or is it a bugsnax? Whichever…) is the Sandopede, a centipede that is also a sandwich. There are also such bugsnax as the Bannanoper (a grasshopper that is a banana), a Bopcicle, (a popsicle that is a beetle) and countless others.
If all of that wasn’t weird enough, it’s about to get much, much weirder.
Whenever a grumpus ingests a bugsnax, a part of their body takes on the properties and shapes of that type of bugsnax. So if a grumpus eats a Rootle (a snake carrot thing), their arm might look like a carrot. If they eat a Cheepoof (a Cheeto with wings), their leg might become a Cheeto… and so forth and so on.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, you do gain the ability to choose which body part changes, so you can at least have some control over the madness.
Gotta Catch Em’ All
Bugsnax plays an awful lot like a weird version of Pokemon Snap (which is good considering that was one of the games that inspired Bugsnax).
Essentially, you are given a specific set of tools, and you wander the island in an attempt to catch the different types of bugsnax. Most of the time the justification is that a grumpus is hungry for a specific type of bugsnax. Other times, you might just want to prove that you are the Ash Ketchum of Snaktooth Island.
What makes this task more difficult than simply setting a trap is that most of the bugsnax are either too fast or too tough to be caught by your simple starter trap. Some require you to lure them into other, more aggressive, bugsnax in order to incapacitate them. Others might have an elemental affinity that you need to exploit, such as a flaming bugsnax that you can put out with a bugsnax that shoots water.
While this is pretty fun most of the time, it can lead to some very frustrating gameplay loops where you are a split second late and have to start your whole Rube Goldberg machine of traps over again.
One pleasantly surprising aspect of Bugsnax gameplay is that there is no damage, and therefore no way to die. Sure, you can catch on fire, be frozen in ice, or get punted across the map, but you can’t actually die, which is a refreshing change from most of the games I play.
The Game is Afoot
The main story of Bugsnax is broken into two distinct mysteries. Namely, “What are bugsnax?” and “What happened to Elizabert Megafig and her girlfriend, Eggabell Batternugget?”
While most of what you do is feed grumpuses too lazy to catch their own food, there are also interviews you can conduct to gather more information about the island’s inhabitants and learn what happened to Elizabert Megafig.
Most of the grumpuses have their own theories and opinions about exactly what happened to Elizabert, and they all have their own ideas about what bugsnax really are. These diverging opinions have led to a societal fracture on the island that you are attempting to repair.
While finding clues or exploring areas is never very hard, the story is intriguing, entertaining, and occasionally disturbing.
One for the Road
Overall, Bugsnax is a whimsical–if somewhat off-putting–indie title that offers far more than meets the eye. Its gameplay is simple to learn, yet often difficult to master. The characters truly shine through, and the story will keep you interested until the credits roll and you are staring wide-eyed at the screen wondering what the what you actually just saw.
I’m giving Bugsnax a delicious 7.5/10…
…and now my arm is a large seven with fives for fingers… what the heck am I supposed to do with this?
But it’s still so delicious.